In April 2016, shortly after the entry into force of the EU Turkey Statement on 20 March 2016, a volunteer working with a Greek NGO on the Aegean island of Chios contacted the
Refuge Law Clinics in Germany asking for legal support in terms of provision of first information to asylum seekers who were now trapped in the Hotspot Vial in Chios. In reaction to this call, several experienced members working with refugee law clinics came to Chios. After a few weeks of this pilot project, it was clear that this was not a sort of short term project. In order to provide qualified legal support to asylum seekers in Chios, a more sustainable project was needed.
The four of us – Clara, Robert, Vinzent and Catharina – have met in Chios during this pilot project in April 2016. We shared the aim to provide qualified legal support to asylum seekers in the Hotspot and agreed on the need for a more sustainable approach. This is how the association “refugee law clinics abroad e.V.” came into life. After a founding period, we finally opened our first office in Chios in May 2017. Our team on the ground consists of qualified legal volunteers, sustainability is granted through supervision by a legal coordinator. The work on the island would be impossible without interpretation, case management and cultural mediation, which is why Yaser, working with us for more than one year now, joined the team in Chios.
After a few months, it became clear that the main gap on the island, which was not covered by any other actor, was support with regard to family reunification under the Dublin III Regulation. At the same time, our team was apt to provide the support needed in these procedures – in particular family reunification to Germany which is the most relevant destination in practice. Therefore, preventing deportation to Turkey and at the same time reuniting families in Europe quickly became our focus.
From the very beginning, the team in Chios has been supported by the Berlin office which is not only providing the administrative support, but which is in particular working on the relevant legal questions from an academic and practical perspective. As it became clear that more minds and hands are needed in Berlin, Anne, a fully qualified lawyer who had previously done an internship with us in Chios, joined the team in Berlin.
In mid 2018, it became clear that the need for legal support in Dublin family reunification procedures would unfortunately not end soon. To the contrary, several NGOs and lawyers from the Greek mainland started contacting us in order to support with these procedures. We therefore decided to open a second office in Athens with a clear focus on family reunification under the Dublin III Regulation.
At the same time, and in order to cope with the increasing need for research and monitoring concerning both the Dublin system and the EU hotspot approach, it became clear that a new focus on advocacy and strategic litigation was needed. These tasks are carried out mainly by the team in Berlin, supported by the teams in Athens and Chios jointly.
The founding team is involved in all locations, coming and going, and thereby learning and transferring knowledge. Our common aim is to address the violations of fundamental rights of asylum seekers arriving to Europe – be it violation of fundamental rights through the still dire reception conditions in the Hotspots at the EU external border and the accelerated border procedure implementing the EU Turkey Statement, or be it the violation of the right to family life separation of families through.